Worth Watching: New Faces on 'This Is Us,' Ziva on 'NCIS,' 'Conners' and Other Season Premieres
A selective critical checklist of notable Tuesday TV:
This Is Us (9/8c, NBC): From the very first episode, this emotional family drama has excelled in the gift of surprise, keeping viewers off balance about what and who — and even when — they're watching. That is especially true in the fourth-season premiere, where viewers are likely to spend the majority of the hour wondering why they're following the stories of a handful of brand-new characters — some played by familiar faces including Once Upon a Time's Jennifer Morrison, House's Omar Epps and Asante Blackk (an Emmy nominee for When They See Us). What do these people represent to the Pearson family? By the end of the episode, things begin to become clear, but it's early going as the series reinvents itself again with new directions and timelines. In the most conventional subplot, we revisit Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) on their return to Pittsburgh from the L.A. road trip, when Jack has an awkward first meeting with his future in-laws (Tim Matheson and Elizabeth Perkins).
NCIS (8/7c, CBS): Still going strong in its 17th season, the durable crime drama kicks off an all-new night for CBS with the high-profile return of Ziva (Cote de Pablo), emerging from the shadows after being presumed dead. Her mission: to warn Gibbs (Mark Harmon) of an imminent danger, while shining some light on where she's been all these years and how her return could impact her remaining family.
The Conners (8/7c, ABC): "How come when I get home it's never somebody got a scholarship?" snarks Darlene (Sara Gilbert), carrying on her late mother's mantle of sarcastic tough love as a new season of the post-Roseanne domestic comedy begins. The eventful season premiere features a return appearance by the hilarious Estelle Parsons (at 91!) as granny Bev, the arrival of a new Conners baby — albeit early — and Dan (John Goodman) ranting about kale. Hectic business as usual, although a scene in which Dan and Darlene clash over parental responsibility has the bite of classic Roseanne.
Country Music (8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): In the penultimate installment of Ken Burns' epic history of country music, the genre's evolution into the mainstream accelerates in the period from 1973-83 as the smooth "countrypolitan" sound takes hold, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson personify the "outlaw" sound, and Dolly Parton emerges as a solo superstar. A new generation emerges, with famous offspring Hank Williams Jr. and Rosanne Cash making their mark. And for those seeking a juicy story of musical heartbreak, George Jones and Tammy Wynette establish themselves as the tragic Liz and Dick of country troubadours.
Inside Tuesday TV: As the sixth season of ABC's black-ish (9:30/8:30c) gets underway, now preceded by sequel spinoff mixed-ish, Pops (Laurence Fishburne) announces he's engaged to the fabulous Loretta Devine, as a judge named Lynette… CBS's FBI (9/8c) gets a new boss in its second season, when procedural veteran Alana De La Garza (CSI: Miami, Law & Order) joins the cast as Special Agent in Charge Isobel Castille, just in time for a restaurant bombing in Queens… National Geographic Channel's Emmy-winning Life Below Zero (9/8c) returns for a 12th season of rugged reality, following Alaskans who live off the grid in extreme conditions… On HBO's sports newsmag Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (10/9c), correspondent Jon Frankel explores why baseball is one of the last remaining youth sports that is not welcoming to female athletes.